Thursday, July 28, 2016

What Were Our Assumptions in 2003?

In an otherwise interesting post on logistics, Strategypage has an aside about our military's assumption about the projected pace of the 2003 invasion. I'm rather stunned at the pessimism.


In 2003, most divisions marched, and often fought, nearly over 600 kilometers in 23 days. That's a remarkable campaign by any standard compared to other operations in the past century. ...

The original plan called for it taking about 125 days to advance on Baghdad and take it. Good military planning always starts with the worst case, and 125 days of fighting was as bad as anyone thought it could get. The coalition force was well trained, professional and well led, and prepared to take advantage of enemy mistakes and weaknesses. Thus the ability to quickly turn the 125 day plan into a 23 day one.

How "original" are we talking? The post-1991 plan sitting in a file gathering dust? Because I find it hard to believe that we seriously considered that it could take 125 days to reach Baghdad.

From my figurative basement clad in my figurative pajamas, I assumed we could achieve a rapid advance:

Overall, the antidote to Iraqi defenses is speed. We may not be able to afford a leisurely 37-day bombardment before we send the troops into Iraq. It all depends on whether the Iraqis actually do just sit and take it or manage some surprises as I've suggested. If they really do fight dumb, we can afford a little more time to soften them up. Still, it would be better to get it over fast. A lot of things can happen if enough time passes. A lot of those things can be bad for us. Push north, bypassing resistance and pummeling those bypassed with artillery and air power. Drive on Baghdad and try to bounce it before the Iraqis get set to defend it. I know the 2001 QDR says we no longer need to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major theater wars, but do the North Koreans agree? Let's not give them the time to mull that one over.

To paraphrase Napoleon, if we're going to take Baghdad, take Baghdad.

That was July 2002. I wasn't specific, but the thrust was clear: drive fast on Baghdad and try to take it on the run rather than settle in for a siege and deliberate assault.

The next month I was more specific:

One week of air strikes. Then a ground invasion that takes us a week to get to Baghdad. Then Lord knows. Could be easy or hard at that point. I don’t doubt we will be victorious, however. Just the time and cost is a question.

My views on how the campaign would unfold changed as the months before the invasion actually kicked off. Some of the assumptions are interesting to read now.

But I was consistent in thinking that we would drive fast to Baghdad, which we did in about a week before we paused to resupply and reform after the rapid drive north while repelling ferocious but ill-led Fedayeen attacks on our flank.

And we did bounce the capital when the Thunder Run showed the defenders to be fanatical but unable to stop us (and I continue to wonder why a movie hasn't been made about the battles at Larry, Curly, and Moe).

Of course, since the Russians leaked our plans to Saddam, perhaps this explains why Saddam thought he could survive our invasion (although Saddam expected--as I did!--that we'd have a major advance out of Jordan).

Perhaps Saddam thought he could have four months to shape the news coverage while secure in fortress Baghdad that we'd approach cautiously. With four months to conduct irregular warfare in the south with his Fedayeen and Baath Party operatives he could bleed us; and by conducting dead baby parades he could bleed international support for the invasion before it could penetrate Baghdad and end his regime.

Anyway, even though the "original" plan may have figured a war could go to four months to reach Baghdad, I sincerely doubt that by the time the offensive kicked off that we really believed the advance would take that long.